“Good guy with a gun” myth

frog_heartIt’s a myth propagated by the corporate gun lobby mostly in the figure of Wayne LaPierre of the NRA that a “good guy with a gun” can stop a “bad guy with a gun”. This presupposes that the only folks with guns who mean evil intent are the “bad guys”. Let’s look at this mythical thinking in the first linked article above:

That argument was put to the test last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, when two “bad guys” with guns, Jerad Miller and his wife, Amanda, shot and killed two police officers. To be clear, the Milers were, in the eyes of the NRA, “good guys” until that exact moment when they used those guns to do “bad” things.

After the cold-blooded shooting, the Millers headed to a Wallmart for a final confrontation with police. Inside, there was a good guy — Joseph Wilcox, a 31-year old Las Vegas resident with a concealed carry permit and a gun in hand. Rather than running away, he took out his weapon and approached Jerad Miller from behind. It was a heroic and selfless act and one for which Wilcox deserves nothing but praise.

But it was an act that cost Wilcox his life.

Unbeknownst to him, there was more than one shooter, and when Wilcox approached Jerad Miller, he was shot in the back and killed by Amanda Miller.

While the NRA claims that a more armed population can prevent these types of mass killings, we know this is not true — and a tragic death like Wilcox’s is a far more likely outcome.

How does the gun lobby respond to this recent shooting in a Grand Forks, North Dakota Walmart store? From the article:

The gunman in Tuesday’s shooting had two passengers in the car when he pulled up to the Wal-Mart in south Grand Forks, Grand Forks Police Department spokesman said Wednesday.

Police Lt. Derik Zimmel said the two people stayed in the car while Marcell Travon Willis, 21, entered the Wal-Mart around 1 a.m. Within seconds, Willis allegedly shot two Wal-Mart employees, including 70-year-old Gregory Weiland, who died as a result.

Lisa Braun, 47, was injured from a gunshot wound. She was still in “satisfactory condition” as of 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, according to an Altru Health System news release.

Willis then shot at a third, unidentified Wal-Mart employee and missed before turning the gun on himself and ending his own life.

The shooter was stationed at the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base:

Sean Willis of Nashville, Tennessee, said only that his son had been in the military for about three years and was originally from Springfield, Tennessee.

Sgt. David Dobrydney, a base spokesman, said he couldn’t yet release any information about Willis due to Air Force regulations.

So far we don’t know why the shooter did this and then took his own life with the gun. Most likely we will learn more in the coming investigation. But I think it’s safe to say that the shooter was a “law abiding” gun owner and therefore one of those “good guys” with a gun that the gun lobby is talking about.

Mr. LaPierre?

The words uttered by Mr. LaPierre dropped like a thud on the American public. The inane response to a terrible national tragic shooting just seemed to puny and ridiculous and just plain incredulous. But this must be what the corporate gun lobby and its’ minions actually believe. They are wrong but they continue believing in myths. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence took on this myth in an article about a poster boy for the “good guy” with a gun myth. They write about a case of an Alabama “good guy” with a gun who shot another in a presumed robbery but got away with the shooting. From the article:

Who Will Protect Us from the “Good Guys”?
Folks like Wayne LaPierre and Cam Edwards and “More Guns, Less Crime” Author John Lott might think our country is better off when criminals under indictment for rape are allowed to own guns and carry them in public.  Rational Americans might disagree, and ask, “If these are your ‘good guys,’ who are your ‘bad guys’?”  Perhaps then-NRA President Karl T. Frederick had this quandary in mind when he told Congress in 1934, “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns.  I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

It also begs the question of how many other NRA “Armed Citizens” have criminal records and histories of violence, a topic which Media Matters recently explored.  As Timothy Johnson of Media Matters pointed out, the NRA’s glorification of individuals like Marlo Ellis “demonstrates how the show must scrape the bottom of the barrel to find actual cases of self-defense with a gun for its audience.”

The thing is, when all of those “good guys” with guns are walking around in public with their guns as they now are everywhere, how do we know what will happen? How will we know when one of them snaps or is suicidal and takes the lives of innocent people? How can we tell these “good guys” from the “bad guys”? And when we allow people with no permits or training to now carry guns as we have done in several states, we will open up our communities to more of these kind of shootings. It is inevitable.

And why wouldn’t the “bad guys”- and by that term I assume the gun lobby means criminals and domestic abusers and others who are otherwise prohibited from owning and carrying guns- also then carry their illegally or, actually, legally purchased guns in public? And what I mean by legally purchased is the policy of allowing private sellers to sell guns at gun shows, through Internet sites ( Armslist.com) on Facebook, in daily newspapers and/or flea markets and other venues. It’s legal because we have not passed laws to require those gun sales by private sellers to undergo background checks.

Which brings me to my point. We have no idea if someone obtained their gun with a background check or not. And in states that don’t require background checks before granting carry licenses, we surely can’t guarantee that the person with the gun is law abiding. Without background checks on all gun sales, the person carrying with a license that doesn’t require a background check and a gun purchased without a background check could be the next Jared Loughner or the next Radcliffe Haughton.

The public has common sense when it comes to background checks. 92% of Americans (and including gun owners) believe all gun sales should come with a background check. Of course. Why in the world did anyone believe it was a good idea in the first place to not require background checks for all gun sales? It slipped through the cracks of the Brady Law when it passed in 1993 in part because then there were only occasional private sellers. Now is different. Private sellers often have exhibits of guns similar to those being sold down the aisle by licensed dealers where background checks are required. And a whole new market has opened up on the internet at places like Armslist.com, even on Facebook and in ads in local newspapers for just a few. Yesterday there were 3 guns for sale by private sellers in my home town newspaper. How about yours? I assume they will be sold with no background check. In my state of Minnesota today there are multiple listings of guns for sale by private sellers- presumably with no background check. In fact, this website called gunlistings.com makes it very easy to find gun ads in papers all over the country. Interestingly enough, there is advice for the buyer and the seller here:

For ensured safety when buying or selling your guns you should meet at a FFL dealer and conduct the transaction through the gun dealer. (transfer fees vary by dealer)

It is up to the buyer and seller to determine if transfering the gun through an FFL is required by law.
If you choose to conduct a transaction privately always meet in a public place!

Always consult federal, state, and local laws before conducting firearms transactions.

At least that advice was given. We have no idea if it’s taken. And we can see how easy it is to find guns for sale from private sellers.

Consider the reason we need a national law. Some states require background checks on all or most gun sales and some don’t. Naturally those who don’t want to go through a background check know where to go to get their guns. And when they are allowed to buy as many as they want, it doesn’t take too much imagination to understand what happens with those guns.

We need to finish the job started in 1993 and require all gun sales to go through Brady background checks. The Brady Campaign’s Finish The Job campaign asks you to sign a petition to send to Congress to pass the background check law they refused to pass after the horrific Sandy Hook school shooting. If we don’t pass this law, we are not doing our job to protect our communities from devastating gun violence. We also know that even this will not stop all shootings or all “bad guys” from getting guns. There are straw purchases, stolen guns, bad apple gun dealers and lots of trafficking. But it is one way to make us safer. Saving lives is what this is all about and if we can save lives, why wouldn’t we? And the bigger question is why the corporate gun lobby is so opposed to keeping guns out of the hands of the “bad guys” instead of a laser focus on arming who they believe to be the “good guys”.

It’s time for a change of conversation and a change to our gun las. We need action and we need those who support background checks to speak out and bring others with them. Lives depend on it. We are better than this as a country.

Guns vs. lawn mowers

Illustration of lawn mower man smiling standing with arms folded facing front done in cartoon style on isolated white background.

There has been an interesting back and forth on the Northland Brady/Protect Minnesota Facebook page about the gun giveaway promotion by a local Ford/Chrysler dealer. I wrote about this in a previous post. The dealer is now responding to the action taken by a group of people who felt the promotion was the wrong message to send to the public and consumers. It was not meant for any other purpose than that. What happened was more than a few phone calls to the dealer and to the Ford Motor company about this particular business policy. The dealer made claims about this being about the second amendment but the last time I checked there was nothing about a right to give guns away in a business deal. He also said callers were mean. I wonder if he means that the callers were insistent and emphatic in their opposition to the business deal. If we want to talk about mean, we can talk about the rude and offensive comments made by those who agreed with this business deal on the Facebook page. Many were deleted and blocked for that reason.

In the business promotion, car buyers had the choice between a lawn mower or one of two types of Ruger pistols. Several news sources have covered this story. This one from the Minneapolis based CBS affiliate WCCO media and also this one from BringMeTheNews.com.

I want to say that I have written several blog posts about guns and lawn mowers on my other blogging site- Here and  here. These were about arguments over lawn mowers. Are lawn mowers dangerous? Apparently fights over them can be. And yes, there are accidents and injuries due to lawn mowers as the owner of the car dealership pointed out as his excuse for why it was OK to give guns away. But as the article above points out:

Accidents are the leading cause of death for kids at just about all ages.

Although the leading causes of these accidental deaths include car accidents,drownings, poisonings, fires, falls and gun accidents, there are many hidden dangers that parents are less aware of that can lead to accidents and tragedies.

Death by lawnmower is rare compared to death by gunshot injuries. 95 deaths in a year compared to 30,000. The gun rights folks often point to other causes of death in their denial that gunshot injuries actually do kill a lot of Americans.

And I would like to include this article about the idea that, as one of the commenters in the story about the car dealer said, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The article, written in 2013 for the Armed With Reason blog debunks this gun lobby myth. It’s a long article but important. But here’s one section I love:

Guns may not kill people, but gun culture does.

6 Academic Responses to “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People”

Lawnmowers don’t mow lawns, people do.  But if you want to mow a lot of grass in a very short period of time with very little effort or coordination, you’re going to need a lawnmower.   And if you want to be brutally efficient about it, why not get a John Deere semi-automatic riding lawnmower? The X758 is a popular model that can literally mow down entire fields at the push of a button, and can be picked up without any hassle at your local Walmart.

I’m belaboring the analogy, but the point should be clear:  Guns may not kill people, but people with guns do, and they do so more often and more efficiently than people without guns.  People do not behave in a vacuum. They are influenced by their environment, and when that environment is occupied by guns, people behave aggressively and impulsively.  Even the NRA is unable to follow its own strict logic behind “guns don’t kill people.” In searching for a scapegoat, Wayne LaPierre often accuses media, video games, Obama’s budget, and anything else he can find that isn’t a gun. The point being these fruitless attempts to shift blame are an implicit acknowledgement that we are influenced by our surrounding environment, an environment that includes guns.

So following this analogy, let’s talk about the clever language that has been used by the corporate gun lobby and their minions for many decades to deflect any talk about common sense gun laws. Lawn mowers don’t mow lawns, people do. Drills don’t screw screws into boards, people do. Saws don’t cut wood, people do. Hammers don’t pound in nails, people do. Vacuum cleaners don’t clean rugs, people do. Mops don’t clean floors, people do. You get the idea. How have these folks gotten away with their nonsense for so long? They make no sense but our leaders have listened to these folks and their myths to the detriment of public health and safety in our county.

If you read further into the article you can see why guns DO ACTUALLY KILL PEOPLE. One example given early on is the accidental gun deaths of and by children. Surely those children did not intend to shoot anyone. The gun was discharged by mistake. Adults make the same mistakes. Take this recent one for example where an Alabama man “accidentally” shot his pregnant girlfriend in the face:

The Gadsden Times reportsthat deputies were called to the couple’s home on Whites Chapel Road around 9 p.m. Thursday after the unidentified man called 911 and said he’d accidentally shot his girlfriend. When deputies arrived, they found the man trying to put pressure on the woman’s wound.

There’s just got to be more to this story. And in most of these incidents the gun owners get away with what they have done. Why? They were reckless and irresponsible with their guns. This is unacceptable. Often law enforcement is afraid to charge someone because…rights. Never mind the rights of the rest of us to be safe from idiots like this guy.

The other gun lobby myth is that more guns will make us safer. That has definitely not been the case. We are far less safe than most other democratized, civilized countries not at war because of our 300 million guns. Just ask the pregnant woman who got shot in the face if she feels safer now.

But I digress. Back to the above story. Did the gun shoot the pregnant woman? Did the man shoot her? Did the man with the gun shoot her? Would this have happened if the man had not had that gun in his hand?

I don’t have enough space here to list the many accidental shootings by children that have come to my attention just over the past few days but I can assure you, guns did not make those children safer. But I’ll post about just this one where a Michigan boy with developmental disabilities got his grandfather’s gun safe key and “accidentally” shot and killed a woman sleeping in the other room.  Why do these keep happening? And they do. More from the article:

According to his grandfather the boy “got up before anybody this morning at 5:30 a.m. He said he was in my pocket trying to get change and he found the gun safe key. It’s always locked up, and I always have the key on me.”

The grandfather said that when the boy tried to unload the shotgun he unintentionally dischargedthe gun.  The pellets went through a nearby closet wall and struck a 28-year-old woman who was sleeping in the living room.

The grandfather said “we turned the light on and we could see all the blood. It was only minutes. She was still breathing, but by the time the police got here, she’d passed away.”

The boy is staying with a family member.  The grandfather said his grandson is an apprentice hunter and has used guns before.  He said the boy “handled guns very safely and wouldn’t touch a gun unless he was told it was okay to pick it up.” He added that the boy “doesn’t realize what he’s done.”

The thing is, kids pick up guns no matter what you tell them. I have written about that many times before on this blog. I’m sorry but this does not sound like a responsible gun owner to me. Twelve year old children without developmental problems are barely old enough to handle the responsibility of guns. This man’s judgement was clearly impaired and now someone is dead. Avoidable and insane but part of our American gun culture and another American tragedy.

I would like to add this one for a particular reason. A 2 year old Virginia boy shot himself with a gun he found in his parents’ top dresser drawer. Now some in the gun lobby will try to deny this could happen and that little kids just won’t find those guns hidden away in dresser drawers. But this ABC 20/20 show proved that this is exactly what can and does happen. These are all avoidable and senseless shootings, not that any make sense.

open carry thugs
From Moms Demand Action Facebook page

Speaking of not making any sense, there’s the open carry folks who are out and about intimidating their neighbors. I do love this photo and article about the Indianapolis folks who think they are making a point by walking around in a residential neighborhood on Memorial Day week-end to show their “patriotism”. A photo of this classy group was posted on the Moms Demand Action Facebook page because, as it happens, the founder of that organization lives nearby to where they carried their assault weapons. Check out it:

“There’s not a thing we can do about it,” ZPD Chief Robert Knox said. “They’re exercising their second amendment right to bear arms and their first amendment right to peaceably get together and walk down the street like anybody else.”

“…like anybody else”? NO. Wrong. These folks are not like everybody else. The second amendment does not give people the right to do whatever the heck they want to do with their guns. This is insane and reflective of the American gun culture. Here’s one more article about this sleazy group of gun extremists. There are not too many words for this kind of tactic. All I know is that we don’t need people openly carrying loaded guns near the home of gun violence prevention advocates as a lark and clearly to intimidate people who work to prevent gun violence. It is not amusing. It is not funny. It has nothing to do with gun rights or the second amendment. It has nothing to do with a civil society. This is simply not OK.

And speaking of the insane gun culture, we should take a look at what else is insane with the stupid and dangerous gun culture pushed by the corporate gun lobby. Can anyone target practice close to homes just because of the second amendment? I say no. In Massachusetts (a reader corrected my posting that this was a California case)  someone thought he could. Let’s take a look:

“It was a piece of paper hanging between two trees with nothing behind it,” he said.

The bullet traveled 1,500 feet from a nearby farm, through a few thinly wooded acres, across a pair of frequently used railroad tracks, through the Costa home’s siding, exterior wall, bathroom wall and closet, before it lodged in the first floor hallway plaster.

Police responded to the scene and Costa’s home was evacuated on Jan. 14. The round pierced the wall about seven feet from his daughter’s head as she sat on a kitchen stool studying World War I.

Here’s the response from the pro gun side:

Gun rights activists have labeled the pending bylaw “anti-freedom” and “anti-Second Amendment” in an online campaign.

“We’re always concerned when we see things like this,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Northborough-based Gun Owners Action League (GOAL).

GOAL has sounded the alarm, urging its local members to attend a May 19 public hearing on the bylaw and reminding them to vote on June 1.

“It seems to be a pattern across the state,” Wallace said. “This has sprung up in a bunch of different towns, and it seems like an organized attempt to make things tougher on gun owners in the state.”

Initially, Berkley police said they could not press charges in the January incident at the Costa home, despite successfully tracking the round to a group of target-shooters on a nearby farm.

There is no pattern. This is all made up anger and total hypocrisy. This kind of intimidation should not be acceptable anywhere. The alarm sounded should come from the side of keeping people safe from stray bullets in neighborhoods. A few inches different and the target shooting gun owner would be singing a different tune and his pals in the pro gun lobby would be taking a seat quietly with the only alarm bells ringing at the funeral of a little girl.

And just one more, I promise. Speaking of the hypocrisy of the gun lobby saying that guns make us safer, check out this particularly stupid and dangerous incident:

Martinez’s older brother, Tom Cline, said Martinez died in the most senseless way.

Around 9:45 p.m. Friday, “Miguel was fooling around with his buddies. They were in possession of a gun and a bulletproof vest,” Cline said Saturday.

Cline said friends encouraged his brother to put on the vest. The three friends with Martinez assured him that he would not be hurt, Cline said.

According to the sheriff’s department, Lambert fired the gun.

“The kid had shot my brother. The bullet penetrated the top of his vest,” said Cline. “My brother was hit. My brother said he couldn’t breathe.”

According to Cline, one person ran for help. Two men carried Martinez up the bike path to meet deputies, but Martinez died.

“My brother did not deserve this death,” Cline said. “I want everybody to know Miguel Henry Martinez was a good boy.”

Cline said he believes his brother might have survived the shooting if someone called for help sooner. He said he doesn’t know where the bulletproof vest or gun came from.

Big OOPS. This is the American gun culture where things like this happen every day. It’s also the American tragedy.

Really, you just can’t make this stuff up. These folks may be “law abiding” because they passed background checks and because open carry and target shooting in neighborhoods is stupidly allowed by our spineless legislatures. These incidents are all examples of the “mad men” culture to which Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign referred in my recent post. Once we thought some dangerous and unsafe behaviors were OK but we found out differently. It’s just a matter of time before so many of these incidents happen that it will be impossible to avoid the obvious solution- changing the conversation about our gun culture and passing stronger gun laws that will lead to improved public health and safety.

It is past time for the insanity to stop. We are better than this. Let’s get to work.

Memorial Day and remembering Isla Vista victims and gun violence victims

the memoriesIt’s Memorial Day week-end. We all know that this holiday is meant to remember our fallen military members and also to those now serving. We have a lot of people to remember given the American war victims. Let us all also remember the victims of gun violence on this day of patriotism. It is our patriotic duty to do all we can to prevent more victims of gunshot injuries. The bodies are piling up with numbers of dead increasing in recent years.:

Car crashes killed 33,561 people in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Firearms killed 32,251 people in the United States in 2011, the most recent yearfor which the Centers for Disease Control has data.

But this year gun deaths are expected to surpass car deaths. That’s according to a Center for American Progress report, which cites CDC data that shows guns will kill more Americans under 25 than cars in 2015. Already more than a quarter of the teenagers—15 years old and up—who die of injuries in the United States are killed in gun-related incidents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This is stunning information. Will we remember it when we remember others this Memorial Day?

I will remember my father who served in World War ll. I will honor by brother who served in Viet Nam and now has PTSD and other related illnesses. And I want us also to remember that more people have died from gunshot injuries since 1968, the year of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, than all Americans who have died serving our country since the Revolutionary War. We need a national day of remembrance for those victims as well. Everytown is promoting that we hold June 2nd as that day starting this year. Other gun violence prevention organizations will join in this day of remembrance.

So let’s start by remembering a shooting that took place one year ago. It’s been a year since a young mentally ill man got himself a gun and shot up a bunch of people at the Isla Vista campus. Just as with most mass shooters, the young man who took so many lives one year ago knew what he was doing when he bought his guns and ammunition. From this article by Josh Sugarman of the Violence Policy Center:

Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, states: “The tragedy in Isla Vista is just the latest example of the human price paid on a daily basis for an unregulated gun industry that has embraced ever-increasing lethality as the way to make a profit. The gun industry is marketing weapons originally designed for military and law enforcement to the civilian population. Its financial beneficiaries in the NRA then fight to stop any and all effective gun violence prevention policies. The rest of us are caught in the crossfire when these weapons are used in mass shootings.”

Key facts on the guns used in Isla Vista:

  • The Austrian Glock 34 pistol has an extended barrel for greater accuracy. Glock pistols are frequently used by mass shooters, as explained in this 2011 VPC backgrounder The Glock Pistol: A Favorite of Mass Shooters.
  • Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter, wrote in his manifesto: “I had already done some research on handguns, and I decided to purchase the Glock 34 semiautomatic pistol, an efficient and highly accurate weapon. I signed all of the papers and was told that my pickup day was in mid-December.”
  • The shooter also owned two Swiss Sig Sauer P226 pistols. Rodger wrote that the Sig was “more efficient” than the Glock.
  • Both Sig Sauer and Glock are “Corporate Partners” of the National Rifle Association. As detailed in the VPC’s 2013 study Blood Money II: How Gun Industry Dollars Fund the NRA, since 2005, Glock has given between $250,000 and $499,999 to the NRA (the range is due to the giving levels defined within the NRA’s “Corporate Partners Program”).

There’s more. And it’s more of the same old stuff. The corporate gun lobby is helping with the easy access of guns to mass shooters and people who just want guns for self defense but end up using them in intentional or unintentional shootings. It’s a travesty and an American tragedy.

But some states deal with tragedies differently than others. California almost immediately acted to get a law passed called the Gun Violence Restraining Order meant to temporarily remove guns from those deemed potentially dangerous to themselves or others. Read this commentary from a Brady Campaign activist about the importance of that law.

The shooting spree left 6 innocent people dead and 14 injured and terrorized the Isla Vista area. Three of the dead were shot, and 3 stabbed. Some of the wounded were hit by his car and others by bullets.

The shooters’ parents knew of his mental illness and other problems which he posted about on a You Tube video. Some weeks before the shooting they asked law enforcement to check on Rodger’s status and try to do something to stop what they knew could be coming. From this article:

“Police might have done more to find out about access to firearms, just given the family’s concern about Rodger’s emotional state. There’s no reason that police responding to people in crisis couldn’t routinely address gun risk–talk about it, try to remove guns in various ways–instead of focusing on trying to predict when exactly somebody is going to be violent; that’s very difficult even for experienced psychiatrists.” (…)

Swanson is now planning to study a training intervention for CIT police officers to routinely inquire about guns in mental health crisis calls. When guns are present, officers might use de-escalation skills to temporarily remove weapons from individuals at-risk of violence or suicide.  If one happens to be in a state such as Indiana that has a preemptive “dangerous person” gun seizure law, police can remove firearms without a warrant, pending a judicial hearing, even if the person with mental illness is not imminently dangerous at the time and wouldn’t meet criteria for involuntary commitment.

The Consortium for Risk-Based Firearms Policy has issued many recommendations in this area. One recommendation concerns the idea of a gun violence restraining order (GVRO) to restrict access to weapons among individuals who might pose a temporary danger to themselves or others. As Swanson and collaborators describe it, the main idea is to “create a new restraining order process to allow family members and intimate partners to petition the court to authorize removal of firearms, and to prohibit firearms purchase and possession temporarily based on a credible risk.”

An ER Physician who attended to the injured after the Isla Vista shooting has written this moving and poignant piece about what it was like that night and why we continue to have the gun carnage that so devastates our families. “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet”:

Over the next few weeks, I was left with haunting questions. Questions that remain unanswered.

Why is it so much easier and so much less expensive to acquire a firearm and large quantities of ammunition than it is to get an appointment with a mental-health professional within three months? Why is the wait longer to see a psychiatrist than to acquire a gun?

Why are there so many more discount gun stores than psychiatric hospitals and mental-health clinics in our country?

Would a well-armed Isla Vista, armed teachers, armed students, or armed fire fighters and EMTs make the body count higher or lower?

Why do we invest so little in mental-health surveillance and mental-health interventions in our schools? Why do so many of the perpetrators slip under the radar? Why are we so often caught off guard?

For all my friends who are responsible gun owners, how do we keep guns and ammunition out of the wrong hands? Would a tax on ammunition to fund mental-health resources be reasonable? What if it were necessary to have certification of having met with a mental-health professional prior to obtaining a permit to purchase a gun?

Why is there so much hate and anger in our society that drives young men mad with feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and rage? What can we do as a community to limit people acting out this anger with violence?

We can actually prevent gun violence. The corporate gun lobby loves to tell us that passing any new laws will only punish their own. They are wrong of course and that kind of “logic” goes against all common sense. Of course laws can matter. They matter for all kinds of things in our every day lives. Under pressure from Ralph Nader and other consumer watchdog groups, and law suits after auto accident deaths and injuries that safety features could have prevented, the car industry started spending more money to add seat belts, air bags and other safety features to cars. And yes, the price of cars increased. That is the price we pay for safety and customers understand that now.

Law suits and public pressure led to bans on smoking in public places because we now understand that we can prevent diseases related to smoking and second-hand smoke. Restaurant and bar owners resisted laws that required them to ban smoking in their establishments but guess what? People are still going out to eat and frequenting bars and restaurants. The fear of loss of business didn’t happen and we are all protected from the effects of inhaled smoke from cigarettes. We are healthier as a result and we are seeing a decrease in health care costs for those impacted by conditions and diseases related to smoking.

Laws matter.

Driving without seat belts or speeding are now illegal. Fewer people are dying.

We know now that we can reduce deaths and injuries from driving while drunk. Why did this one take so long to happen? It took lawsuits and public pressure from MADD and other consumer watchdog groups to get the attention of our lawmakers. Laws that penalize people for driving with blood alcohol levels above a certain limit have reduced auto accidents related to drunk driving. And our awareness of the problem, along with fear of arrest and the desire to save lives has been a change in social mores.

Laws matter. Drunk driving is punishable and we have learned to use designated drivers instead of driving drunk.

So how does this work for gun violence and the laws that do or could make us safer? Not so well. We do know that in states and countries that have strong gun laws, fewer people die of gunshot injuries. That should be good proof that we can change laws and get good results right? Not so much actually. For the corporate gun lobby is all about profits over saving lives. And the corporate gun lobby is famous for buying the influence of political leaders all over the country. Sometimes this is so obvious as to be egregious.

Take the Lawful Commerce in Arms law passed by Congress in 2005. In contrast to all other industries, the gun industry was granted immunity from lawsuits that would require safety features on firearms and safe practices by manufacturers and dealers. This had clearly not led to anything good. From the article:

In 2005, former President George W. Bush signed into law the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act – the “No. 1 legislative priority of the National Rifle Association” – which immunized gun makers and dealers from civil lawsuits for the crimes committed with the products they sell, a significant barrier to a comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy. Despite recent reporting on proposed efforts to prevent another tragedy like the one in Newtown, a Media Matters search of Nexis revealed major newspapers and evening television news have not explained this significant legal immunity.

Faced with an increasing number of successful lawsuits over reckless business practices that funneled guns into the hands of criminals, the 2005 immunity law was a victory for the NRA, which “lobbied lawmakers intensely” to shield gun makers and dealers from personal injury law. As described by Erwin Chemerinsky, a leading constitutional scholar and the Dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law, by eliminating this route for victims to hold the gun industry accountable in court, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was a complete deviation from basic “principles of products liability“:

Laws matter. Loose gun laws do not save lives.

One egregious example of this kind of pandering to the gun industry is a recent law suit filed by the parents of one of the victims of the Aurora Theater shooting. This one is on vivid display because of the current trial of the shooter of that tragic incident. The parents of Jessica Ghawi filed a suit against the ammunition company that provided the drum magazine to the shooter.  A Colorado District court judge recently decided in favor of the ammunition company and ordered the Phillips to pay back the legal costs for the law suit. Yes, really. This happened. From the article:

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was one of 12 people killed in the July 2012 attack, had sued four online retailers that provided bullets, gun magazines and body armor alleged to have been used in the shooting. They accused the retailers of selling the items without concern about the mental fitness of the buyer or the items’ intended use. (…)  In an order issued Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled state and federal laws protect ammunition sellers from such lawsuits. He dismissed the case. (…)

And to make this all the worse, the judge ordered the Phillips to pay back the legal costs of the lawsuit. Last night’s Rachel Maddow show highlighted the outrage over the idea that a victim’s family had to pay the legal costs back to the ammunition company they attempted to sue on behalf of victims everywhere. We should all be very outraged by this. It’s time to call out this kind of insane fealty to the gun industry which represents a decreasing number of Americans who own fewer and fewer guns.

The thing is, there are real victims who were real people with real families whose potential will now not be realized. In their memory we ought to realize that we can’t continue along the road to more and more gun deaths without doing something to prevent them. So why can’t we? The NRA and the corporate gun lobby.

So let’s get this straight. A new study by the Violence Policy Center tells us that the NRA/corporate gun lobby represents only 1 in 5 Americans. The big question is why a minority group representing an industry has the ear of many of our elected leaders. It’s very important that we let our leaders know that they don’t have to be afraid of the incendiary rhetoric coming from a group that does not have the best interests of our children and families in mind. When people can be massacred in a movie theater and the parents of one of the victims are ordered to pay back the ammunition company from which the shooter ordered his bullets of death and destruction, something is very very wrong.

From the above article:

One of the greatest successes of the NRA and the gun industry has been their ability to act as if they represent a majority of Americans. This is in spite of the fact that the NRA represents only a tiny fraction of gun owners, let alone all Americans, and gunmakers are a relatively small industry compared with other manufacturers of consumer goods. Yet this mistaken belief in their own popularity — based on nothing more than chest-thumping and false assertions — is what drives the NRA and itsfinancial backers in the gun industry as they push for policies and legislation that benefit only them, from one law after the next that expands concealed carry in public spaces to a militarized product line that facilitates public mayhem.

The facts are these. A clear majority — two thirds — of Americans don’t have guns in their homes. Almost four out of five Americans don’t personally own a gun. And as the gun-owning population continues to age and die off, fewer Americans are taking their place.

After the carnage at the “biker gang” shoot-out in Waco, Texas, many are asking questions about our armed society. The gun lobby loves to claim that an “armed society is a polite society”. How could they be more wrong? A great article from the Dallas News examines our armed society and raises the questions and concerns we all should be raising:

There is simply no need for a civilized society to tolerate the type of gun-related violence that Americans seem to accept as normal. Other modern industrial countries have realized, in some cases long ago, that it is unnecessary for people in a free society to have easy access to guns.

The solution to gun-related crime is not further arming the public. It involves enacting comprehensive gun control laws that prohibit many forms of gun ownership, significantly curtailing or eliminating access to and the ability to purchase guns, and implementing programs in which the government confiscates or purchases illegal guns already in circulation among the public.

For those firearms that are legal, ownership should be tied not only to background checks, but to extensive and mandatory training in the safe use and storage of weapons. Evidence from other countries shows clearly that these types of measures will significantly reduce gun-related deaths and lead to a safer and more secure society.

In an era of extreme concern about national security, Americans need to recognize that one of the greatest threats to national security is their own heavily armed population. We need to enact legislation that will greatly reduce gun-related crimes and protect people from the dangers associated with widespread gun access and ownership. Unfortunately, our proven inability to handle widespread gun ownership suggests strongly that the way to do this is to deeply restrict access to and ownership of most types of guns.

Americans should ask themselves whether they want to live in a society that is secure because everyone is ready to shoot one another or one that is secure because people have peace of mind and experience freedom from violence and the freedom to pursue their lives in safety and happiness rather than fear.

We need the freedom to pursue our lives in safety. Many have lost that freedom due to gun violence. Yes, Americans have their gun rights but they don’t have the right to make the rest of us unsafe in our homes and communities. We can do better than this. Let us remember the many victims of gun violence on this Memorial Day. They have given their lives as well to the insanity of the American gun culture and the spineless cooperation to the gun lobby by our leaders. It’s time for all of that to change. And we will change it by continuing our own efforts in the pursuit of stronger gun laws, educating the public about the risks of guns in homes, programs to get parents to ask about guns in homes where their children and teens play and hang-out, holding the gun industry responsible for bad actions, and supporting the many victims whose stories are so compelling and poignant that they should change the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in America.

Of “Mad Men”, lapdogs, car dealers, gun giveaways and biker gang shoot-outs

Texas bikers
Thanks to Parents Against Gun Violence

There is always so much to write about that it’s difficult to find the starting point. But I think I’ll start with the biker gang shoot-out in Waco, Texas on Sunday because the irony is so delicious. Let’s first take a look at who showed up at this massacre that took the lives of 9, left at least 18  injured and led to the arrest of 172 or so.  You really can’t make this stuff up. From the article:

Open Carry advocates and bikers packed the State Capitol grounds in January in hopes of pushing for more lax gun laws. Among those bikers was Mike Lynch, who was also one of the culprits in the Waco bloodbath. (…)

Mike is one of the 172 bikers who were arrested after the carnage in Waco, leaving 9 dead and at least 18 injured.

In January, at least 2,000 bikers made their way to the State Capitol for a day of lobbying. Gun rights was at the top of their list of priorities, Fox 8 reported.

“They’re going to try to take our guns because some looney toon killed a bunch of people,” one biker said in January.

I can’t fit anymore irony in one sentence than that.

Lynch wrote on Facebook, “What a great day!” above a post referencing their attendance at the Texas Capitol.

So when we let the gun lobby and its’ minions write our gun laws, this is what we get- a lot of dead people in a massacre that most law enforcement said they have never seen in all of their years of working in the field. And it’s true that the gun lobby, whose interests are not that of even most gun owners, write the laws.

I love this statement about what happened in Waco from the Brady Campaign:

“Everything is big in Texas,” said Jonathan Hutson, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Including big biker shootouts and even bigger loopholes that allow criminals and other dangerous people to buy guns without a Brady background check at gun shows and online”

Ah- the irony again. Now here was a group of mad men, for the perpetrators were mostly men. And mad they were- over some slight that allegedly happened in a restaurant bathroom and perhaps someone drove over someone’s foot in the parking lot? That’s enough to make you mad all right. But did people have to die over these petty arguments? The answer is, of course, NO. But when a gun, and in this case other weapons as well, are available, it’s easy to kill someone in an instant in an argument.

What I am saying is that guns are the most commonly used weapon in homicides. And this case was a prime example. Other weapons were used but the 9 who died apparently, from the information I have found,  all died of gunshot injuries:

….“When you get in an argument with a group of outlaw motorcyclists,” Thompson wrote, “your chances of emerging unmaimed depend on the number of heavy-handed allies you can muster in the time it takes to smash a beer bottle. In this league, sportsmanship is for old liberals and young fools.” The addition of guns proved predictably deadly. But whose bullets killed whom and why?

As if on cue, the right wing is blaming law enforcement for the deaths. At this point we don’t know who killed whom. But it seems clear from several articles that the biker gangs had made some statements threatening to shoot police officers.

And as if to make the public, who mostly support common sense when it comes to gun laws– yes- even in Texas- madder, the Texas legislature is thinking about expanding gun rights to allow just about anyone to open carry their pistols and other guns and with a provision that prevents law enforcement from asking them for their permit to carry. Seems like a good idea, right? This is the gun culture we have, thanks to spineless politicians who care more about their campaign treasure chests and saluting to the corporate gun lobby than about common sense and actually doing something about the public safety they were elected to protect. This is the definition of mad men– meant broadly to include all legislators.

They are lapdogs to the gun lobby. Shame on all of them. Check out this Brady Campaign video for the satire and the truth about our politicians:

Sigh.

Closer to home, a local car dealer decided it would be a good idea to give pistols away in a promotion to get customers to buy cars. Great idea, right? What message does this send to the public? Why do we think giving away a deadly weapon should be a part of a business promotion?  Some of my Facebook friends alerted me to the one page prominent ad in the local newspaper. This prompted quite a big discussion on Facebook and through e-mail about what we could do to express our concerns about such an ad. ad for gun give away

Yesterday more than a few phone calls were made by concerned citizens to both the local newspaper and the local car dealer. We learned that the Pawn Shop that had apparently donated the guns for the promotion, is a licensed firearms dealer and will perform background checks on any person who walks away from the gun dealer with a gun. The problem is that there was no disclaimer to that effect in the ad as there should have been. We also learned that the both the newspaper personnel and the car dealer representatives to whom we spoke were quite adamant that a background check should be required. If that is the case and the importance of a Brady background check was expressed, one wonders why there is so much resistance to requiring all gun sales to have one? Calling attention to the fact that many gun sales go without background checks will help to change the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in our communities.

By coincidence, I took my car to my dealer for an oil change and some other maintenance yesterday where I spoke to one of the managers who I know. He said that this ad was the topic of their morning meeting. They were quite concerned about the lack of information about whether a background check would be required. Their other concern was for the bad message this sends to the public leaving them embarrassed for car dealers who have to sink to giving guns away to get business.

What is happening here is that the veritable “chickens are coming home to roost.” When we sit back and allow the insane and well funded single interest gun lobby groups to make our laws without thought to the consequences, we encourage such a cavalier attitude towards guns that when something happens like the Waco shooting, people are taken aback and proclaim surprise. When a car dealer gives gun away in a prominently placed ad in a local paper, some people just think it’s part of our culture and no big deal. Others, however, take notice and they don’t like it. The problem for this gun dealer here was that the ad was so large and the image of the two pistols so obvious that it called attention to itself. That is what they wanted but I don’t think the result is what they expected.

This is NOT the gun culture the general public wants. But it is the gun culture we have. It is also not the culture we have to accept. Things are changing.

Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign wrote this great piece yesterday about how changes to social mores occur over time and how we have learned to do a better job of protecting our children and our communities from hard, sometimes the hard way.  From the article:

And then it struck me, what could be more inspiring than Mad Men? Not only as a great way to end a speech, but as a powerful demonstration of how much the world can change and how quickly that change can happen.

In less than a generation how many of the things we see on that show have gone from perfectly acceptable — even glamorous or sexy — to socially unconscionable? How many dangerous, reckless or harmful things that we used to do without second thought, are things we would not even consider doing now? (…)

The fact is, if we can just keep guns only out of the hands of people that every sane American believes should not have them in the first place, and inspire safe, responsible behavior around the dangers and risks of guns in the home, we can create extraordinary change.

But first, we have to stop talking about guns as a partisan political debate and start talking about gun deaths as the public health and safety issue that they are.

Don Draper famously said, “If you don’t like what’s being talked about, change the conversation.” That is precisely what we must do to address the problem of gun deaths and injuries in our nation. Just like all the other issues that have changed so dramatically in the generation since Mad Men, we have to start talking about solutions based on our common goals and values, like health, safety and freedom from fear.

Dan Gross is right. Gun violence is a public health and safety epidemic. Making that worse by passing looser gun laws rather than stronger laws has deadly results. Promoting gun giveaways for advertising promotions is just not a good idea given the increase in gun deaths and the obvious public health problem resulting from our cavalier and insane gun culture. We don’t have to accept the way things are. We can step up to make change and it can happen in small ways as well as large. The “Mad Men” culture isn’t the culture we have today, though some would say that the advertising culture prevalently featured in the popular series still exists in some ways. But luckily we know better about some things and people no longer openly smoke and drink in the work place or let kids play with plastic bags over their heads.

If local car dealers realize that they shouldn’t give guns away as a way to get people to buy cars, then change will happen. If Texas legislators are scrutinized for their own role in listening to the wrong people while making gun laws, then change will happen.

It is so obvious that something is terribly broken with our American gun culture. But why do we let it continue without making the changes we deserve? Ask your legislators to be responsible decision makers when it comes to public safety. Ask them to stop being lapdogs to an industry that sells deadly weapons without concern for public safety. Ask other parents if there are unsecured guns in homes where your children play. Ask businesses to think twice about allowing loaded guns in places where families gather. Ask questions when you aren’t sure a policy is going to actually keep children and families safe from devastating gun violence. Make phone calls, send e-mails, realize that laws matter and there are consequences to bad laws.

We can’t shrug our shoulders and just walk away thinking that nothing will change anyway so why bother. We can make a difference if we put our heads together for common sense.

Let’s get to work. It’s past time to challenge things that have become socially acceptable but are actually harmful and dangerous. Let’s do it before more harm is done. Lives are at stake and we are better than this.

Happy Sytennde Mai and gun laws in Norway

syttende_mai_drinking_glassToday is Sytennde Mai or Norwegian Constitution day. Here is more about this big Norwegian celebration day:

The 17th of May (Syttende Mai) is Norway’s Constitution Day, a wonderful spring holiday celebrated with red, white and blue ribbons and flags, national costumes and big smiles as Norwegians everywhere mark the historic signing of their Constitution (Grunnloven) in 1814. That year marked the beginning of Norway’s gaining her independence from Sweden, fully realized in 1905.

The 17th of May evolved over the years in Norway as a day for people to rally for political change or to stand unified during the German occupation (1940-45), when open celebration of the holiday was strictly forbidden. Today, thousands march in children’s and people’s parades all over the country and wherever Norwegians are found–expressing their cultural pride, joy in springtime and honoring those citizens who created Norway’s constitutional government, founding her independence.

The Syttende Mai parades are not military but of Norway’s citizens, marching to the bright music of community and school bands. Decorations of leafy birch branches–in celebration of winter’s end–and Norway’s flag of red, white and blue make for a festive atmosphere.

Both my husband and I are of Norwegian ancestry. My maternal grandfather emigrated from Norway. My husband’s maternal grandparents, along with several of his aunts and uncles, also emigrated to Minnesota from Norway. We have visited with and stayed with relatives from both of our families on a trip to Norway many years ago. We happened to be in Oslo for the May 17th celebration. It was a great experience to be there for the festivities and see the national costumes and even get a glimpse of the King and Queen waving to the crowds from the palace balcony.

In July of 2011 the Norwegians experienced a horrendous mass shooting. Anders Brevik, a right wing extremist, killed 77 people in the worst attack since World War ll. From this article:

The 2011 Norway attacks were two sequential lone wolf terrorist attacks against the government, the civilian population, and a Workers’ Youth League (AUF)-run summer camp in the Oslo region on 22 July 2011, claiming a total of 77 lives.

The first was a car bomb explosion in Oslo within Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter of Norway, at 15:25:22 (CEST).[1] The bomb was made from a mixture of fertiliser and fuel oil[13][14] and placed in the back of a car.[15] The car was placed in front of the office block housing the office of Prime MinisterJens Stoltenberg and other government buildings.[16] The explosion killed eight people and injured at least 209 people, twelve of them seriously.[10][11][12]

The second attack occurred less than two hours later at a summer camp on the island of Utøya in Tyrifjorden, Buskerud. The camp was organized by the AUF, the youth division of the ruling Norwegian Labour Party (AP). A gunman dressed in a homemade police uniform and showing false identification[17][18] gained access to the island and subsequently opened fire at the participants, killing 69 of them,[7][8] and injuring at least 110 people, 55 of them seriously;[11][12] the 69th victim died in a hospital two days after the massacre.[9] Among the dead were personal friends of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the stepbrother of Norway’s crown princess Mette-Marit.[19]

It was the deadliest attack in Norway since World War II,[20][21] and a survey found that one in four Norwegians knew “someone affected by the attacks”.[22] The European Union, NATO and several countries around the world expressed their support for Norway and condemned the attacks. On 13 August 2012, Norway’s prime minister received the Gjørv Report which concluded that Norway’s police could have prevented the bombing of central Oslo and caught the gunman faster at Utøya, and that more security and emergency measures to prevent further attacks and “mitigate adverse effects” should have been implemented on 22 July.[23]

My city had a beautiful memorial service for the victims of that awful incident. I attended the service and was touched by the outpouring from local folks of Norwegian ancestry and many who just came to express their concerns and sympathies.

Let’s look at more about Norwegian gun laws and how this lone wolf terrorist obtained his weapons and ammunition. More from the above article:

Breivik spent six days in Prague in late August and early September 2010. He chose the Czech Republic because the country has some of the most relaxed laws regarding guns and drugs in Europe. Following his Internet inquiry, Breivik noted that “Prague is known for maybe being the most important transit site point for illicit drugs and weapons in Europe”. Despite the fact that Prague has one of the lowest crime rates among European capitals,[33] Breivik expressed reservations about his personal safety, writing that he believed Prague to be a dangerous place with “many brutal and cynical criminals”.[34] (…)  

Breivik had several fake police badges printed to wear with a police uniform, which he had acquired illegally on the Internet, and which he later wore during the attack.[17][18] Contrary to his expectations, he was unable to get any firearms in the Czech Republic, commenting that it was the “first major setback in [his] operation”. In the end, he concluded that Prague was “far from an ideal city to buy guns”, nothing like “what the BBC reported”, and that he had felt “safer in Prague than in Oslo”.[32][34][36]

You may remember that I wrote about the gun laws in several countries on a recent river boat cruise of the Danube. The Czech Republic was one of them, along with Germany, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary. Brevik was mistaken. Though the Czech Republic’s gun laws are somewhat looser than other European countries, they are stricter than he was led to believe and he was very wrong about Prague in particular. The only danger we faced there was from the crowded streets and making sure our personal belongings were safe from pick pockets.

But I digress.  You can see from this section of the above linked article that Brevik had to lie in order to get a gun through legal channels in Norway since their laws are pretty strict about a permit to own handguns:

Originally, Breivik intended to try to obtain weapons in Germany or Serbia if his mission in Prague failed. The Czech disappointment led him to procure his weapons through legal channels.[36] He decided to obtain a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock pistol legally in Norway, noting that he had a “clean criminal record, hunting license, and two guns (a Benelli Nova12 gaugepump-action shotgun and a .308bolt-action rifle) already for seven years”, and that obtaining the guns legally should therefore not be a problem.[32]

Upon returning to Norway, Breivik obtained a legal permit for a .223-caliberRuger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine, ostensibly for the purpose of hunting deer. He bought it in late 2010 for €1,400 ($2000). He wanted to purchase a 7.62x39mmRuger Mini-30 semi-automatic carbine, but did however for unknown reasons buy the Mini-14.

Getting a permit for the pistol proved more difficult, as he had to demonstrate regular attendance at a sport shooting club.[34] He also bought ten 30-round magazines for the rifle from a United States supplier, and six magazines for the pistol (including four 30-round magazines) in Norway. From November 2010 to January 2011 he went through 15 training sessions at the Oslo Pistol Club, and by mid-January his application to purchase a Glockpistol was approved.[37][38]

Brevik actually had to go through training sessions in order to get a permit to purchase a gun. What a novel idea! And where did he obtain the ammunition?:

Anders Behring Breivik wrote in a 1,500-page manifesto that he bought 10 30-round ammunition clips for his .223 caliber rifle from an unnamed small U.S. supplier, which then in turn acquired the clips from other suppliers. Norway forbids the sale of clips for hunting rifles that hold more than three bullets, according to Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Breivik wrote in his manifesto that while he could have purchased the high-capacity magazines in Sweden, they would have been significantly more expensive than ordering them from a U.S. supplier. He wrote that he spent $550 for the 10 clips. He also described legally buying four 30-round clips for a Glock handgun in Norway.

Not surprising. Everyone knows that it’s easy to obtain guns and ammunition in the U.S.

So here is another look at the gun laws in Norway. Norway ranks 44th in the world for the number of civilian owned firearms.  The rate of gun homicides in 2012 was .10 per 100,000, far lower than that of our own country. The rate of gun suicides in Norway was 1.63 per 100,000, higher than gun homicides as it is in almost all democratized, developed countries. In Norway, as in most other countries, licensing and registration of firearms and owners is required and carrying guns in public is prohibited.

There is, as I have written many times before, an unmistakable link between strong gun laws and low gun civilian deaths and injuries. This is a case for our advocating for stronger gun laws in our own country. Norwegians and most other countries are using common sense when it comes to protecting their children and communities from devastating gun violence. Occasionally a mass shooting occurs in one of these countries even with stronger gun laws. In some countries, a change to stronger gun laws has occurred after high profile mass shootings. The shootings in Dunblane, Scotland and Port  Arthur, Australia are two examples. 

In Scotland, 16 children and one adult were shot and killed in 1996 by a “loner obsessed with guns”. And here is how the UK responded to this horrendous shooting:

In the wake of the 1987 Hungerford massacre, in which one lone gunman killed 16 people, Britain introduced new legislation — the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 — making registration mandatory for owning shotguns and banning semi-automatic and pump-action weapons.

Within a year and a half of the Dunblane massacre, UK lawmakers had passed a ban on the private ownership of all handguns in mainland Britain, giving the country some of the toughest anti-gun legislation in the world. After both shootings there were firearm amnesties across the UK, resulting in the surrender of thousands of firearms and rounds of ammunition.

Britain has never had a “gun culture” like that of the United States, but there were about 200,000 legally-registered handguns in Britain before the ban, most owned by sports shooters. All small-bore pistols, including the .22 caliber, were included in the ban, along with rifles used by target shooters. Penalties for anyone found in possession of illegal firearms range from heavy fines to prison terms of up to 10 years.

“It was one of the most shocking things that has ever happened in this country and it united the country in a feeling that we had to do something,” Gill Marshall Andrews, of the Gun Control Network, told CNN. “And I don’t think that it would have been possible to make the kind of progress that we have made without that tragedy.”

Now there is the kind of common sense not seen in the U.S. even after the slaughter of 20 6 and 7 year olds in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. In Australia, something similar happened after the massacre of 35 people, also in 1996, at Port Arthur in Tasmania. A disturbed young man accomplished this awful shooting. Let’s take a look at what happened after that shooting:

It moved public opinion.In the wake of the shooting, “a national upwelling of grief and revulsion saw pollsters reporting 90–95% public approval for stringent new gun laws.”

A conservative politician took the lead.Australia’s conservative Prime Minister John Howard spearheaded a push by Australian states and territories to severely restrict gun ownership that year, in what came to be known as the National Firearms Agreement.

It targeted the kinds of guns used in massacres.“As the Port Arthur gunman and several other mass killers had used semi-automatic weapons, the new gun laws banned rapid-fire long guns, specifically to reduce their availability for mass shootings.”

It encouraged people to turn in guns. The government “bought back more than 650,000 of these weapons from existing owners, and tightened requirements for licensing, registration, and safe storage of firearms.”

It wasn’t free. “Total public expenditures were about A$320 million (US$230 million), or approximately A$500 per gun, which isn’t much less than what it costs to buy one.”

But it was paid for. ”The buyback program was financed by an additional 0.2% levy on national health insurance.”

Again, this was the kind of common sense not seen in America. And the result?

Gun homicide rates fell.In the 7 years before the NFA, the average annual firearm homicide rate per 100 000 was 0.43 (range:0.27–0.60), whereas for the 7 years after NFA, the average annual firearm homicide rate was 0.25 (range: 0.16–0.33).” (…)

  1. In the 18 years up to and including 1996, the year of the massacre at Port Arthur, Australia experienced 13 mass shootings. In these events alone, 112 people were shot dead and at least another 52 wounded (table 1). In the 10.5 years since Port Arthur and the revised gun laws, no mass shootings have occurred in Australia.” [Mass shooting defined as five or more dead. None have occurred since the publication of the paper in 2006, either. -eds.]

  2. Gun suicides declined. “In the 18 years (1979–96) [before the law], there were 8850 firearm suicides (annual average 491.7). In the 7 years for which reliable data are available after the announcement of the new gun laws, there were 1726 firearm suicides, an annual average of 246.6.

Let’s get this straight. America loses over 30,000 of its’ citizens to firearms injuries every year. The majority of these are suicides followed by homicides and then accidental gun deaths. This is the American tragedy and we can’t let it continue.

Anyone who says that gun laws don’t matter is deceiving you. The American corporate gun lobby has managed this deception for many years now with little scrutiny from the media and too many of our politicians. There is proof that stronger gun laws lead to fewer gun deaths. So what we need in our own country is a common set of facts that are known and believed by our elected leaders and the general public. For this is how change can happen. This is how we can make sure that our nation’s public health and safety epidemic of gun violence can be addressed in a reasonable way. And by reasonable I mean that we need to make sure that all guns are kept from some people who shouldn’t have them. It’s pretty simple. Those who shouldn’t have them are children, suicidal teens and adults, domestic abusers, felons, those with adjudicated and severe mental illness, terrorists, gang members, and others on the prohibited purchasers list now who can get guns anyway without background checks and through straw purchasing, stolen guns and unsecured guns in homes.

We can save lives if we put our minds to it, deal with the issue from a fact based perspective, have a change in our conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in our communities and put our heads together to protect our children so they can grow into adults who contribute to their society and reach their human potential. Too many lives are cut short before that happens.

So back to Norway and Sytennde Mai– I hope all of my Norwegian relatives had a wonderful celebration. And I hope they will all be safe from harm. I do know that they are much less likely to be harmed by firearms than their cousins in America. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s get to work to change laws, hearts and minds.

Happy Anniversary Million Mom March

Million MOm MarchToday is the 15th anniversary of the Million Mom March. I have been writing about it and posting to Facebook pages about it. I want to share this video in the words of Donna Dees Thomases, founder of the Million Mom March, about why she decided to organize a march to end gun violence:

Donna was right. We weren’t doing enough to prevent the daily shooting incidents. When small children are attacked by a crazed gunman in a pre-school, something was ( and is) wrong with our American gun culture. Not long after the shooting incident at Granada Hills Jewish Community Center where young children were injured, the Columbine shooting happened. And then the shooting of 5 year old Kayla Rolland. They just kept coming and it was more than enough to get 750,000 plus Americans involved in one of the nation’s largest rallies on the Washington Mall.

We marched and we organized and we had hope. And then we learned that trying to break through the entrenched corporate gun culture was an uphill battle. We have had occasional victories, the latest of which is the passage of a new background check law in the state of Oregon.

We will continue working on passing stronger gun laws and countering the craziness of the corporate gun lobby. Why? Because lives depend on our staying the course and being there to get out the message that too many have died from gun violence and that we can save lives if we put our collective heads together to change the national conversation and tell the truth about the devastation of  gun violence in our communities.

In another article about the anniversary, Donna and other advocates talk more about the movement and about plans for the future. 

When I started this 15 years ago, 10 kids a day died from gunshot injuries. The number today is closer to 8. That is an improvement. But it’s not acceptable. What other public health epidemic gets treated like gun violence? It’s all about the fierce opposition of the corporate gun lobby and it’s bought and paid for politicians. That has not changed in the 15 years since the Million Mom March.

But never mind. We will continue working on safe storage, on getting parents to ASK if there is a gun where their children play and hang out, on laws to stop bad apple gun dealers from providing guns to dangerous people and to make sure all gun sales go through a Brady background check.

For this is the country most people want. It’s not what we have or deserve.

We are better than this.

Thanks to Donna Dees -Thomases and the many Million Mom March and Brady chapters all over the country for their devotion to this important cause. Thanks go to all of those politicians who have had the courage to speak up for common sense. Thanks to the physicians, lawyers, clergy, community activists, like minded groups, friends, families of victims and survivors for their willingness to support what we do. And thanks to those who have followed in our footsteps to make our country safer.

Teens, curiosity and guns- a uniquely American public health problem

curiosity

I’m sure you’ve heard this one: “Curiosity killed the cat.” Curiosity can also kill kids. If something looks interesting, shiny, bright, intriguing or is forbidden, we can count on kids to want to touch it or do it.

That is why no matter what you tell your kids, they are curious about guns and will want to hold them and pretend to shoot them. Of course, in American teens have easy access to guns and we also know that way too often teens bring guns to schools or other places and actually use them to kill others. The fact that this is common is disturbing. It goes against the corporate gun lobby mantra that more guns make us safer. It also is in direct opposition to the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program touted as the way to keep kids safe from loaded guns.

Let’s take a look at why Eddie Eagle is not doing the trick.

In a Minnesota high school, 2 boys brought a gun to school to see what it was like to “hold” it. One of the teens got the gun from his own house. From the article:

The 16-year-old student told Oakdale police he received the gun from another 16-year-old Tartan student. The student took the gun from his parents’ home and brought it to school so he and his friend could hold it.

“Both students said they were curious about the idea of having a gun and were showing it off,” Oakdale police said in a statement.

So much for teaching kids not to touch guns. Kids are curious. They will touch. Luckily this did not end badly but it certainly could have. Hopefully the irresponsible parents who allowed easy access to a gun will think twice about how they store their guns or even if they should have guns in the home considering that a curious teen already said he wanted to see what it was like to hold a gun. Next time he might do more than just hold it.

A teen in Tempe, Arizona brought a gun to school and shot and killed himself in the school. Where did his gun come from? Easy access to guns makes suicide quick and efficient with no time to reconsider or think about anything. And now a family is grieving for an avoidable death of a son who had potential that will not be realized.

Teen suicide is a serious public health problem in our country. From this article:

  • Suicide is one of the 3 leading causes of death for 13- to 19-year-olds in the United States.
  • An average of 4 American teenagers commit suicide every day.

Does a gun in the home increase the chance of suicide? YES!

  • In states where there are more guns, more people commit suicide.
  • Studies have shown that the risk of suicide is 4 to 10 times higher in homes with guns than in those without.
  • If the gun is a handgun or is stored loaded or unlocked, the risk of suicide is even higher.

Does it matter how a person tries to commit suicide? YES!

  • Suicide attempts with a gun are very likely to be deadly.
  • Suicide attempts with drugs or methods other than guns have a greater chance of survival.

Suicide accounts for the majority of gun deaths in America. Shouldn’t we be doing something about that?

A California teen shot and injured herself with her father’s gun. Even officers, apparently don’t get that curious kids and teens will touch guns no matter what you tell them about the dangers. There are risks to having guns around the home. When will “responsible” gun owners get that? How many more of these will we be hearing about and writing about before gun owners understand that if they decide to own a gun they had better decide to own responsibility. With rights come responsibilities. There are no excuses.

Don’t believe the gun lobby rhetoric that guns in the home for self defense will be likely to save you from a home invasion. Those are rare compared to the accidental and intentional shootings with the guns owned for self defense.  Do guns come with warning labels? Shouldn’t anyone who purchases a gun be required to go through training? When profits come before saving lives and a sale is more important than a life, this is what we get.

Let’s take a better look at the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program (from the Violence Policy Center): ostensibly for gun safety for kids:

  • The primary goal of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth. The Eddie Eagle program employs strategies similar to those utilized by America’s tobacco industry—from youth “educational” programs that are in fact marketing tools to the use of appealing cartoon characters that aim to put a friendly face on a hazardous product. The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.
  • Violence Policy Center research reveals for the first time that manufacturers of firearms, ammunition, and related products directly contribute hundreds of thousands of tax-deductible dollars to the NRA through its “affiliate,” The NRA Foundation. The Foundation in turn then makes “grants” to the NRA to fund the Eddie Eagle program. Financial contributors to The NRA Foundation include Saturday Night Special or “junk gun” manufacturers, rifle and shotgun manufacturers, and manufacturers of ammunition and reloading equipment. Donation of land of unknown value has also been made by industry members to The NRA Foundation for endowment programs. Industry members have also facilitated the donation of more than a million dollars to the NRA through point-of-purchase dealer and catalog sale programs.

There is much more of interest in this article. I hope you will read it. Marketing guns to kids is a really bad idea. Just like driving a car, they can wait until they are deemed to be more ready for the responsibilities that come with a potentially dangerous product.

Remember this ABC 20/20 program which showed how even though kids whose parents explicitly told them not to touch guns, they did it anyway? I do. It was in direct opposition to what the gun lobby deceptively tells people about their kids and guns. Why? Because they don’t want parents to reconsider a gun sale if they understand the truth about kids and guns.

Anyone with common sense should understand that keeping guns safely secured away from curious kids and teens and those who are suicidal is a really good idea and can save lives. And maybe the parent of the Minnesota teen who got a gun from a friend should have asked if there were guns in the home where their son hung out. Asking saves lives. Check out the ASK Campaign if you don’t believe me. I am betting that these parents wished they had asked because now their son is in a lot of trouble and they should be mortified about the whole thing.

Kids and guns don’t go together no matter what the gun lobby tries to tell you. Their push to get kids comfortable around guns is bunk. Hunting is one thing when accompanied by an adult. But holding and playing with handguns or assault rifles is just not OK. There is no need for a teen to get comfortable with those kinds of guns. Teens can’t think through consequences. Of course, neither can many adults.

It’s past time to change the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in our communities. Let’s get to work. We can make our kids and communities safer with some  and responsibility.